Published on January 29, 2021

Urgency vs. Emergency

When it comes to your health care, there are a lot of different options available. But how do you choose which one is best for your needs right now?

Different types of facilities have different capabilities. Some have different levels of expense. Knowing where to go before you ever need to can make a big difference in the care you receive.

Urgent Care

When it comes to handling minor problems, urgent care facilities can get you seen, treated and back to your life in short order. We have a limited scope of practice, with a quick turnaround, and that makes for shorter wait times. We also have a dedicated team of providers, including a physician on call at all times, plus nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

We can take care of minor problems like upper respiratory or ear infections, simple eye injuries, minor cases of the flu, mono or pneumonia, rashes or lacerations (cuts or gashes) requiring stitches that don’t affect major blood vessels. We also have diagnostic capabilities like x-ray machines and lab service with results typically available that same day. We can also collaborate with specialists thanks to modern technology which allows easy, secure sharing of medical records for a second opinion. Our patients can be 3 months of age and older.

Urgent care clinics are built for speed and efficiency, but that also means we don’t see bigger problems. We can’t do IVs (which can be an issue for people dehydrated from the flu or other problems) or more advanced imaging tests like CT scans or MRIs.

But having a smaller range of treatment options not only makes urgent cares faster, but also less expensive. The bottom line is, for a minor problem, an urgent care clinic may be a better option. It will save you time, money and get you back to doing whatever you’d rather be doing.

Emergency care

When it comes to treating more advanced problems, or if there is any question about the severity of your illness or injury, the emergency department is where we recommend patients go. We see the whole spectrum of critical illnesses, and we have the equipment and expertise to handle them. If you suspect you might be having a heart attack or a stroke, the emergency department should be the first place you come.  All patients, regardless of their ability to pay, are evaluated by our staff and will be given the best possible care.

In the most urgent situations, you should call 911, and first responders will bring you to the closest emergency department straightaway. But we see a lot of people who don’t think they should call an ambulance, but also know they need medical attention quickly.

One of the keys to remember is this: When in doubt, go to the emergency department. If you have a truly serious problem, delaying diagnostics and treatment can lead to greater problems. For possible heart attacks or strokes, our most effective treatments depend on a quick response, and waiting means we can’t use these therapies.

It’s also important to be careful not to get too caught up in wishful thinking. It’s very common that patients come to the clinics who should be at the emergency department, but they come to the clinics hoping it’s minor. We hope it’s minor too, but we would rather you come to the emergency department if you’ve got heart attack symptoms and it turn out to be nothing. That’s better for everyone than potentially delaying life-saving treatment.

Call Ahead

If you want to go to one of our urgent care clinics during its business hours, but aren’t sure if that’s the place to go, call ahead. We have staff that can answer questions that can direct you where to go. If it’s past clinic hours we do have a 24-hour info line (855-417-8555) staffed by medical professionals who can help advise you on whether or not to seek medical attention. Our rule of thumb is, always err on the side of caution. If that means coming to the emergency department and finding out you’re going to be just fine, we’ll always count that as a win.

This piece appeared in the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer's Living Well column on Wednesday, April 15, 2015. 

About Owensboro Health

Owensboro Health is a nonprofit health system with a mission to heal the sick and to improve the health of the communities it serves in Kentucky and Indiana. The system includes Owensboro Health Regional Hospital, nationally recognized for design, architecture and engineering; Owensboro Health Muhlenberg Community Hospital; Owensboro Health Twin Lakes Medical Center; the Owensboro Health Medical Group comprised of over 200 providers at more than 20 locations; three outpatient Healthplex facilities, a certified medical fitness facility, the Healthpark; a surgical weight loss center and program, and the Mitchell Memorial Cancer Center.

On average each year, we have 16,000 inpatient admissions, deliver 2,000 babies and provide the region’s only Level III NICU. Owensboro Health physicians perform nearly 24,000 surgical procedures, including nearly 200 open-heart surgeries. Our physicians and staff have 70,000 Emergency Department visits, more than a million outpatient visits annually. Visit our home page for more information.